`Always played up'

North Carroll's Caitlin Bach is used to playing against older girls, so it is no surprise the freshman led the county in scoring and rebounding

Basketball

March 04, 2007|By Rich Scherr | Rich Scherr,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Even in her earliest days on the basketball court, North Carroll's Caitlin Bach always played against the older girls.

When she was in first grade, she competed against kids in fourth grade. In fifth grade, she took the court with eighth-graders. It was a strategy that her long-time Amateur Athletic Union and rec coach - who also happens to be her father - employed to help his daughters more rapidly improve their games.

So it came as little surprise to Joe Bach that his freshman daughter, Caitlin, wound up leading Carroll County in points and rebounds this season despite constantly facing players who were two or three years her senior.

"She's always played up," said Joe Bach, who has coached various levels of basketball for 30 years. "People always use to assume she was older. By her eighth-grade year, people were kind of in awe at how she played."

At 5-foot-10, the 14-year-old showed glimpses of her potential this winter, averaging 14.6 points, 9.2 rebounds and more than two blocks a game by combining her size and strength with her ability to dribble past inside defenders who often were less agile. It's a skill her father has tried to emphasize throughout her career.

"I can dribble some, so it's kind of hard for other post players to guard me," Caitlin said. "I'm just so used to playing guard, because in AAU that's all I played. My dad knew that playing the post came kind of easy [to me] and [playing] guard is harder, so he just played me at guard the whole time."

The end result is a formidable post player who can do something the vast majority of her counterparts can't - handle the ball.

"I use Caitlin as a point guard under the basket," said Joe Bach, who coaches Caitlin and her sister Megan, 16, on the Maryland Waves AAU team, based in Howard County. "Every play goes through her. If the ball gets down low and she's doubled, she's passing out to her sister. I have the best of both worlds. I have a great outside shooter and a great post player."

The sisters, teammates at North Carroll, have played on the same teams for most of their lives. When they were younger, their recreation team lost just one game in four years.

Last year at an AAU tournament in Pottstown, Pa., Caitlin showed she was more than ready to make a splash at the high school level, scoring 11 points in the final minute of a game, including a half-court shot at the buzzer to force overtime.

She finished that game with 29 points and 18 rebounds.

This season, she helped a North Carroll team that finished last in the county last season make significant strides, more than doubling its win total.

"The [basketball] IQ that she came in with, the energy that she came in with, ... it obviously forced some other kids to compete with her everyday in practice," Panthers coach John Brown said. "That's made our team better."

Caitlin was practically born with a basketball in her hands. Her father, a player at North Carroll in the mid-1970s who later went on to run the North Carroll Recreation Council, got each of his four daughters into the sport at early ages.

The oldest, Melissa, a junior at Towson University, played three seasons for Brown at North Carroll. The youngest, Sarah, is 11.

Caitlin seems to have the most potential in the sport.

"As far as her scoring average, the sky's the limit," Brown said. "She has the skills to be an inside player right now. Once she's able to expand her game, she's going to be much tougher to guard."

"If she ever really applied all of her talent, she'd be unbelievable," Joe Bach said. "Caitlin has the potential, but doesn't always work as hard as she needs to. Because she can play guard, she's almost unstoppable. In AAU, we haven't found a player yet that can stop her one-on-one."

Despite also playing goalie in field hockey and trying her hand at track and field this spring, basketball will always come first for Caitlin. She said she is looking forward to being an integral part of helping her young team grow into a county and state contender.

"I definitely want to stay at North Carroll," she said, insisting that she has no interest in transferring to a private school. "I've got to make a statement there."

To Joe Bach, a key highlight of Caitlin's inaugural season was that she remained aggressive inside, but never fouled out of a game. It is something he attributes to her years of experience at the AAU level.

While most other freshmen spent this season fighting for court time on the junior varsity level, Caitlin spent hers proving that it is not necessarily the age of a player that matters most. It's how well-schooled they are.

"It's scary being a freshman playing against seniors," she said. "I was definitely nervous at first, because it's just a whole new game. I didn't expect to do that well."

For Caitlin, the expectations will only continue to grow.

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